Before Hurricane Ike, I had a plan to write one profile a week on the Judicial Races. Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a time crunch. I'm trying to double up here and cover all of them before the Early Voting starts, so forgive me if the quality of the profiles suffer.
The 177th District Court Judicial race pits Republican Incumbent Judge Devon Anderson against Democratic challenger Kevin Fine.
This particular race is interesting to me, because I know both candidates, and I like them both very much.
I first met Judge Anderson when she was still a prosecutor with the D.A.'s Office, and she was prosecuting the infamous Railcar Killer, Rafael Resendiz Ramirez. She was trying the case along with Lyn McClellan and then-District Attorney, Johnny Homes. In watching that trial, even amongst those "Old Dogs", Judge Anderson was the most impressive attorney in that heart-breaking and terrifying trial.
I was thrilled when Judge Anderson was elected to the bench in 2004 and I knew she would represent the Harris County Criminal Justice System well.
In my opinion, she has lived up to, and exceeded those expectations.
Judge Anderson is a smart, tough, and fair Judge who manages her docket in a no-nonsense manner that is efficient and timely. Her docket is always one of the Top Two lowest dockets (the other one being her husband, Judge Mike Anderson's docket) of all the 22 District Criminal Courts. I agree that "numbers aren't everything", but the low numbers are indicative of a Court that is moving at a very effective rate.
To be fair, I know that there are some complaints from the Defense Bar about Judge Anderson, and I think they need to be closely examined. Some have complained of her brusque demeanor with Defendants. One highly respected defense attorney (who asked to remain anonymous) stated to me: "She has never been anything but courteous and respectful to me, and she's never screwed me over on a ruling, but she's pretty rough on my clients."
Fair enough, but let's take a look at that.
An example of that which I heard from a (different) member of the Defense Bar was the following story:
"I had a guy charged with a Third Degree (NOTE: Punishable by 2 years to 10 years in TDCJ) dope charge, and the State had offered him a year in the county jail. My guy turned it down, and asked for his trial setting. When [Judge Anderson] learned what the offer was and what he had turned down, she just went off on him about how stupid it was that he was turning the offer down."
This particular attorney was relatively aggravated about the Judge going off on his client, but when asked what ultimately happened to his client, the story comes into perspective: He was found guilty and got 8 years in TDCJ.
Now, don't get me wrong, I think everyone who enters into the CJC should be treated respectfully, but if this particular defendant had listened to Judge Anderson's brusque criticism, he'd be out of jail by now. She was trying to scare some common sense into him, and he didn't listen to her. Ultimately, his feelings may have gotten hurt, but she was right. If I were in his shoes, I'd have taken a little berating in exchange for not having to serve an additional seven years of incarceration.
The bottom line is that the Defense Bar complaints about Judge Anderson have always seemed a little hyper-sensitive to me. I think this is a Judge who is doing the right thing and following the law. As a voter, and as a lawyer, I think being a little bit brusque is called for from time to time.
Her opponent, Kevin Fine, is a respected, skilled, and very intelligent defense attorney. And he's also a hell of a nice guy.
He's a member of the law firm of Stanley Schneider and Troy McKinney, who are also some extremely smart attorneys. I wish that his website had a little more background information on him, because I would gladly include it here. I really do think Kevin is a great guy. He's also a brilliant lawyer.
But when it comes down to it (although I know Mark Bennett and crew will probably be blasting me for this statement), there's nothing wrong with a "tough" judge on the bench, and I think that is pretty much what Judge Anderson exemplifies.
Does she hurt some feelings? Perhaps.
But does she call them like she sees them and still provides a fair trial? Yep.
To me, that makes a great judge.
[NOTE: I forgot to mention in my earlier posts that Judge Anderson (along with Judges Cosper, Wilkinson, and Thomas) also volunteers her time to preside over the STAR Court program, which provides meaningful help to defendants with drug addiction.]